Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei thinks that MLS has already made a significant impact in the CONCACAF Champions League this season. Speaking to the media Tuesday, the keeper said he felt the performances put in by MLS teams have altered the discourse around the league in North American soccer circles.
MLS clubs have a long tradition of struggling against Liga MX opposition in the Champions League. A clean sweep of MLS clubs over Mexican opponents in the first leg of the CCL quarterfinals, however, were pointed to by American and Canadian soccer fans as a sign that the long-established power dynamic between clubs from the two countries may soon shift.
With the second leg of the semifinals Tuesday night, and both clubs in a theoretical position to advance to the final, Frei was asked if he was rooting for his fellow MLS clubs (including his former home in Toronto FC) to get by their Mexican opponents for an all-MLS final.
“I think it’s a love-hate there,” Frei said. “MLS has already won this year when it comes to CONCACAF. You can clearly see the respect that the respect in Mexico particularly, has increased. It’s been a win regardless. Whether they want to admit it or not, they’re talking about us. That’s proof enough that we’re headed the right direction. I wish those teams all the best, but I want to be the first one to win it. They’ve done well. They deserve to be in the position they are, and if they continue to do it, Toronto and New York have a good chance.”
The Red Bulls trail Chivas (who knocked out Seattle 3-1 on aggregate in the quarterfinal) 1-0 after the first leg in Mexico, while Toronto carry a 3-1 lead to Estadio Azteca after a home leg win over Club America.
Whether the 2018 edition of the tournament proves to be the historical pivoting point between the two leagues remains to be seen, but development trends in MLS suggest that the gap between the two leagues is narrowing quickly.